By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Starting this week, half the governing board overseeing the launch of Sonoma County’s public power agency will consist of elected officials based in Santa Rosa.
The shakeup, driven by moves to fill Sonoma Clean Power’s expanded eight-person board, will retain two Santa Rosa-based county supervisors — Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin — and add two Santa Rosa city council members.
The central role Santa Rosa played recently in deliberations about the agency partly fueled the county’s nominations, said David Rabbitt, the Board of Supervisors chairman, who chose Zane and Gorin for the county’s two regular seats.
“I want to make sure we’re all working well together, and I think we are,” Rabbitt said of the power board.
On the sidelines, however — bypassed for any county role on the power agency board, regular or alternate — is embattled Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who has dropped out of public business since his July 13 arrest on suspicion of burglary and prowling.
The 32-year-old west county supervisor, whose case is in the hands of prosecutors, is undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse, according to his lawyer and advisers, and could be away from his job until mid-August. He has been a passionate advocate for the power venture, envisioned as a competitive and greener alternative to PG&E, the region’s main electricity supplier.
Yet Carrillo now faces at best a marginal role guiding its launch, his first significant omission from county business and likely a bruising one because he had been highly involved in the initiative’s formal development, starting with a county study three years ago.
With the legal cloud hanging over Carrillo — his next court date is Aug. 30 — and his extended absence from county business, Rabbitt said he had no other choice.
“While there might be other work that can wait, in this particular case, there is a need to have some consistency going forward as soon as possible,” Rabbitt said. “It’s not meant to be punitive. It’s really meant to do what’s best for Sonoma Clean Power.”
In what could be an emotionally charged moment Tuesday, Rabbitt has planned to make a statement about Carrillo’s arrest at the beginning of the Board of Supervisors meeting, the first since June.
“You can’t just start the meeting and pretend everything is the same,” Rabbitt said. “It’s not.
“Going forward, I just want to say that this happened. It’s not OK — it’s tragic all around — and now we need to get to work,” he said.
In the meantime, Zane and Gorin said they were pleased to have a significant say in the power agency’s launch.
Zane acknowledged in greater detail Friday her behind-the-scenes role in arranging a last-ditch deal three weeks ago that paved the way for Santa Rosa’s participation.
“We were strategizing over the weekend,” she said, about a settlement that evolved in a July 7 meeting between power agency staff and Santa Rosa Mayor Scott Bartley.
“I was being a real advocate for the program and letting (Santa Rosa council members) know that I would do everything in my power to have them join us,” Zane said.
Gorin, who in June stepped down from the power board to make way for Windsor Vice Mayor Bruce Okrepkie, acknowledged the various factors at work in her abrupt return.
Carrillo’s legal troubles were at the top of that list.
“That certainly is a factor,” Gorin said. “Before all this happened, I would not have anticipated that I’d be appointed to this authority.”
She also cited her role representing Sonoma Valley, Rabbitt’s full plate as chairman and his duties on other regional boards and Supervisor Mike McGuire’s growing oversight of county road issues.
“I think the board and the chairman right now is thinking about Efren’s responsibilities and how best to represent the county on a temporary and long-term basis,” Gorin said. “I’m very aware that responsibilities are shifting.”
Zane, who was first elected along with Carrillo in 2008, was tight-lipped speculating about how the sideline role would sit with Carrillo.
“I can only tell you that he was deeply invested, as I was, to make this program be successful and that he had put a lot of time into it,” she said.
The Santa Rosa City Council is set to decide at its Tuesday meeting on its appointees to the power board.
Sources indicated that likely choices include Bartley, the mayor; Jake Ours, who has served on a public-private steering committee for the venture; Vice Mayor Erin Carlstrom; and Robin Swinth, a former engineer who served on the city’s Board of Public Utilities.
Gary Wysocky and Julie Combs, early advocates for many of the governance changes adopted for Santa Rosa’s sake last week, are on the council minority, making them outside contenders.
Each regular seat is backed by an alternate, meaning a total of four elected officials from Santa Rosa and the county each could be involved in some way.
Once a sixth city joins Sonoma Clean Power, the number of regular board seats for Santa Rosa and the county would drop to one each, equal to the rest of the cities.
Cloverdale, Rohnert Park and Petaluma have elected to remain on the sidelines for now. With all eligible cities in the mix the agency would be overseen by a nine-member board.
Among the three other cities being seated Thursday, the regular appointees are Cotati Mayor Mark Landman, Sebastopol Mayor Michael Kyes and Sonoma Councilman Steve Barbose.
The power agency’s 3:30 p.m. meeting is to be held in the Board of Supervisors chambers and will include a presentation on the first-year budget.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.